29 May 2011

29 May - Rhode Island; Stuffies

Rhode Island.  The Smallest State (with the longest name and the shortest motto).  The Ocean State.  Little Rhody.  The Land of the Independent Man.

Today in 1790, Rhode Island, the first of the thirteen colonies to declare independence from Great Britain and the last of the colonies to ratify the Constitution, became the 13th State, officially known as "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" [And despite the silliness of a handful of people who have all the depth of a bumper sticker, that is STILL the official name].

Yes, it is small, 37 miles wide by 48 miles tall, but - to quote Mike Conovan (Pat and Mike, 1952) - "what's there is cherce."

We have a vampire, a mystery tower (Vikings? Aliens?  Benedict Arnold's ancestor?), and a place called "Sin and Flesh Brook" (wouldn't that be a great return address?)

For Lovecraft fans, there is The Shunned House, as well as his grave.  The Devil left his hoof-prints here, revenants hang around here, and the rich and famous built their summer cottages here like the one shown below:

The Breakers, Newport

And the people here are very nice.  I've lived here 25 years.  Another 25, and my neighbors might even accept me.  Or not.  But in the meantime, they're very nice to this West Coast girl.

At least I'm beginning to understand the local dialect.  For one thing, when someone asks if you want to go to the potty, trust me, he's not being a pervert.

STUFFIES (STUFFED QUAHOGS) are a wonderful snack or appetizer, and one of the first things the late Mr. Rudd made for me as an introduction to the cuisine of Rhode Island.  There are as many different recipes as there are people who make them, because it is basically clams, breadcrumbs, and seasonings - and the seasonings are up to the cook.  So you will find recipes that use Italian breadcrumbs or Japanese breadcrumbs or Portuguese bread pieces or Ritz Crackers or saltines.  Some grind the quahog meat, some chop it fine, some just chop it into pieces.  Some add chopped celery or bell peppers.  Some mix in grated Parmesan or shredded Chedder cheese or use them to top the stuffed shell.  Some stir in spicy chorizo (chourico) sausage, or milder kielbasa.  Do as thou wilt.  The recipe below has served us well.

You will need 8 - 10 quahogs.  These are large clams, not the tender little steamers that one grabs from the shell, dips in butter and describes in an arc to one's waiting mouth.  No, quahogs are large and tough - but so good.  The shells are about 4 inches long, which gives you lots of room for the stuffing.

First of all, scrub those clams, whether you got them from the local grocer or off the boat of a quahogger or found them yourself in the surf.  Put them in a pan of cold water and use a scrubbing brush on them, changing the water as necessary.

When clean, put them in a large stockpot with about 1 to 1-1/2  inches of water.  Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the clams open.  Remove the open clams to a large bowl where they can cool down (and any liquor in them can collect).  Some clams take longer than others to open, but you should be able to tell when the unopened clams 'aren't gonna'.  They are dead, as in 'before you got them home' dead.  Requiscat in pace.  Discard them.

Finely mince (or crush) 1 clove of garlic.  Finely chop 1 medium onion, and 1 green or red bell pepper (or 1/2 of both).  Remove the casings from 1/2 pound of sweet Italian sausage.

When the quahog shells are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from inside, chop it finely, and set aside.  Open the shells and split them apart.  Clean them thoroughly (no soap, please), dry, and set aside.

Strain the broth from the kettle and from the bowl into a large measuring cup or other container through a layer of cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer (don't want any grit in the stuffies).

In a large skillet, crumble the sausage and cook until no pink remains (about 5 minutes), breaking up any clumps.  Remove with a slotted spoon to another bowl.

In the same pan, melt 1/2 cup of butter and saute the onions and peppers until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another 1 - 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

If your skillet is large enough, then stir in the reserved sausage and quahogs with 1 cup of bread crumbs.  Moisten with the reserved clam broth and mix well. (Otherwise, do all of your mixing in a large bowl).

Heat the oven to 350° F.  Place the clean shells on a baking sheet.  Fill the shells with stuffing mixture.  Sprinkle a little paprika over the stuffed shells and top each with a little pat of butter.  Bake for 20 - 30 minutes until hot and lightly brown on top.  Serve with hot sauce and lemon wedges.

This usually makes about 10 - 12 stuffies, sometimes more.  A friend says that he makes a bunch, wraps them in foil, and freezes them for future midnight snacks (thaw, and bake as above).  I haven't tried that yet.